Buyer’s guide to dried fruit
Drying, salting and smoking are the trinity of ancient methods to preserve a harvest. Of the three, drying is the simplest. Here are a few quick tips to finding the best tasting dried fruit.
Was the fruit grown where it was dried?
To get the most flavor out of your fruit you want to pick it ripe. But as we all know, ripe fruit is fragile. It doesn’t travel well. Once a ripe fruit is picked it rarely gets any better and far more likely gets worse. The best dried fruits are made where they are grown, with minimal travel and storage time between plucking and preserving.
Did they add anything to the fruit?
You don’t need to add anything when you dry fruit. At the most, some producers might a bit of citrus or citrus extract to stop oxidization (browning), keep the color brighter, that kind of thing. Anything beyond that and you gotta ask: why? Why the smoked chipotle powder? Why the added sugar? Those of us who’ve spent a long time tasting foods are always suspect when companies start adding flavors to foods that should taste good on their own. Sometimes the new flavors work, that’s great. But often they’re there to make some marketing razzle dazzle or, at worst, cover up something that didn’t taste good to begin with.
If it was cut, how did they cut it?
Small fruits like grapes and mulberries can be dried whole, but bigger fruits like mangoes or guavas need to be cut up before drying. Cutting the fruit into smaller bits and shreds can allow you to discard any bruised or damaged bits of fruit, but it also often makes for tougher texture. To keep the fruit in larger pieces, you have to start with fruit that’s in excellent, unbruised condition. Larger, thicker pieces generally have a softer texture.
How far did they dry it?
This is the one that separates the good from the great. You can dry a little or you can dry a lot. A little and you’ve got a fruit that’s soft, plump, maybe even a little juicy. A lot and you’ve got chewy leather. It’s easiest to cut everything small, turn the oven up, walk away, and have it done—to dry it a lot. But fruits come in at different ripenesses, different water contents. They need TLC if you want to make something that tastes great and has a luscious texture.